Nowadays it’s cheap and easy to stream music and video using the internet, but you probably remember making copies of albums using cassette decks, or recording TV shows on a VCR — and your glee at being able to do so. My own beloved collection of several hundred bootleg concert cassettes lingered in my garage for many years before I overcame my emotional attachment to them (and wanted the space for something else).
Some types of technology are impactful for many years (laptops) and others are not (iPods and DVD-Rs, anyone?). Unfortunately, digital technology is often conflated with innovation, or used as a simple shorthand in its place, especially in school contexts.
So what is innovation, if not technology?
A quick internet search turns up many definitions for “innovation”, but I am drawn to the one that proposes three elements: 1) new ideas that 2) create value when 3) they are implemented, whether through updates to existing systems or the creation of new ones. Some innovations are incremental, while others are radical, but all three components are essential to innovation.
I hope you can join me in marvelling at how our faculty continually integrate new innovations into our classrooms that have direct benefit to students.
One area in which we think about innovation are the outcomes for students. Krissie Olsen’s work this year teaching digital citizenship and digital literacy helps our students be prepared to navigate the complexities of the online world — a reality that did not exist when we were children. We also want students to learn to act with grace and courtesy in real life, which shows up in instances such as an author party where older students share tea and muffins with younger students while reading their original work.
Another key space where we try to innovate is in what students actually do in the classroom. Rather than simply memorize addition facts, our youngest students are asked to build their own understanding of what numbers mean and how they work — in mathematics, this is formally called “number sense” — from counting the seeds in a pumpkin to measuring the circumference of an apple. The work is meaningful to them, not rote.
Across all areas of our program, teachers help students learn agency; the capacity to take action independently, while holding awareness and purpose of the world around them. Last year’s 8th grade Humanities program culminated in the “Museum of Exclusion”, in which students worked in small groups and designed museum exhibits about marginalized peoples in American society, which they presented both on campus and at the MAH.
We apply the innovation approach to the instructional practices of faculty. We’ve begun using new types of collaborative assessments in the middle school, while teachers are now implementing literature circles and “morning blast” across upper elementary grades. We’ve built upon the school’s history of integrating art into academic projects by adding Spanish, music and Disco collaboration to classroom projects, such as the fifth grade year-end performance piece.
In the last two years, we’ve also begun innovating in the design of classroom environments. Our flexible classrooms in grades 2-4 and in the middle school are easily reconfigured for whole class discussion, small group collaboration, and individual work, while promoting student choice and health through a variety of seating options.
Beneath this all, the burgeoning field of neuroscience has been especially useful in driving our understanding of how to effectively innovate the teaching and learning that happens at Gateway. This is a far cry from goals of “college and career readiness” or “high school preparation” that don’t put students’ actual lives at the center of the academic and social program.
Though educational innovation is much more than just computers and other devices, and technology is not necessarily innovation in and of itself, technology can “add value” in some schooling circumstances across the above areas. At their best, these tools increase communication and networking, promote the faster flow of ideas, and spark creativity and imagination.
Educational innovations can present intellectual and emotional challenges to teachers and families. They need to be supported with time, energy, money and other resources to have lasting impact. At Gateway, by using innovation to add value to the child’s learning, the teacher’s instruction, and the family experience, we put students in the best position to thrive in the future.
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School